LEARNING TO FLY

[Tags: Women survivors, Survivors who menstruate, Heterosexual survivors, Survivors under 30yrs]

When I was seventeen, I was sexually assaulted. I told no one until I was nineteen. I can still count on my fingers the people who know. Or rather, the people that I told. My story was shared without my consent, and my side has never been heard save for those designated a finger.
The story is nearly a textbook scenario. I was at a party and had too much to drink. I blacked out and was put to bed. I woke up with his hands on my body. Skin on skin where skin had never been.
At seventeen I still had little experience. I had kissed two boys in my life and never gone beyond first base. To say I was inexperienced is an understatement. And he took that from me.
I woke up but couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t move and I didn’t know why. I could barely breathe.
I was one of the “lucky ones.” He heard someone coming to check on me, and as they opened the door he scrambled off of me. He didn’t get what he wanted, or did he?
What haunts me are the what ifs? What if someone hadn’t walked in, how far would it have gone?  How long would I have lain there, paralyzed in fear? What would have happened if I had tried to get away, he was bigger and stronger and far more sober.
All of this is textbook, my story is nothing unusual. Except that he was my first cousin.
I was at a party put on by my cousins. It was packed with other family and their friends. I was surrounded by family, and taught my whole life that family was safe.
Now it doesn’t sound so textbook…except it still is.
A year and a half later, when I told my mother, her first reaction was you shouldn’t have been drinking, what were you thinking, you asked for this. It is your fault. Her next reaction was, so what? You’re not special. This has happened to all of us so suck it up.
To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. She didn’t just mean assault. She meant assault or worse by men in the family. Turned out assault is an intergenerational epidemic in that family and community. And I became one of the complicit, too afraid to say anything on an issue that everyone was aware of, but no one spoke of. Until I became an example for what happens when you do speak out, but not by choice.
Without my consent, liberties were taken with my body, and now without my consent, it was public knowledge.
For years I lived with the guilt of silence, fearing that by remaining silent I would be complicit in another’s misfortune. That he would take the same liberties with someone else, because that is what the statistics tell us.   
But when the story was revealed, I did not feel any relief or empowered. It was not my choosing, and everyone said what I had feared – it was my fault, I shouldn’t have been drinking, I shouldn’t have said anything, boys will be boys, I was a liar. I had to spend years pretending that nothing happened, still hug him at family gatherings, pretend I did not remember a thing. That was how I survived.
But maybe some of us aren’t meant to survive. We have to die the metaphorical death. We have to endure a trial by fire to rise from its ashes.
If I am being honest, I don’t feel like a phoenix, but it takes time to learn how to fly. I am still processing the loss of innocence, the loss of trust, and the loss of that entire side of my family.
No one took my side. No one even bothered to ask for my side of the story. The best I got was “well, if this really happened the two of you need to sit down and talk and he should apologize, then all this drama can be resolved.” Resolved. My assault was nothing more than a problem to be fixed, a festering wound was to be given a band aid.
You learn a lot about people when they face flames. Most will turn away and bury their heads in the sound so they don’t hear the screams.  No matter what anyone tells you, blood means nothing.
Nothing without morals, without boundaries, without human decency.
If the pain of the wounds inflicted could show physically, I would bleed to death. But if science could save my life by giving me a strangers blood, then perhaps blood bonds are not simply genetic.
What has taken me a very long time to learn is that family can be anyone. If the people closest to us can betray us that deeply, why can people who were once strangers not be our saviours?
I am nowhere near healed. The mention of his name, or even the city in which it took place trigger flashbacks and anxiety. But I am no longer burning either. An ocean how separates us. I have a family of friends who understand rather than reprimand. I have a partner who makes me feel safe, seen, and loved. I have emerged from the ashes but have not yet learned to fly.
One day I want to soar, but no journey is linear and I know it will take time, but I feel that just coming to terms with that is a step forward. Reclaiming my own voice – even anonymously – is a step forward. Every step helps, and remembering that it is a marathon not a race is how we will not only survive, it is how we will thrive.